Teacher training

Cambridge refuses to reapply for teacher training over ‘prescriptive’ reforms

Top uni concerned about 'important inconsistencies' in reforms set out in initial teacher training review

Top uni concerned about 'important inconsistencies' in reforms set out in initial teacher training review


The University of Cambridge moved a step closer to shutting down its teacher training programme after it failed to reapply for government approval amid concerns over reforms to the system.

While there will be a second accreditation round later this year, most providers have applied already.

The university said it was concerned about “important inconsistencies” in government plans, which many say force providers to follow a “prescribed” method of training.

A Schools Week investigation has found that the reforms have pushed several smaller school-based initial teacher training (ITT) providers into new partnerships. Other universities are also holding off reapplying.

James Noble-Rogers, executive director at the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers, said it would be a “cause for concern” if the government lost any “high-quality” universities.

“Given that many operate at scale, even a small number could have a significant impact on teacher supply, particularly at a local and regional level,” he said.

Teacher training applications are down 24 per cent on last year after a Covid boom, meaning recruitment has dropped below pre-pandemic levels.

We asked all 232 ITT providers if they had applied in the first reaccreditation round. Of the 44 that responded, 10 providers – representing nearly 1,500 entrants this year – said they had not.

‘Outstanding’ provider has ‘significant concerns’

Cambridge, which had 252 entrants this year and is rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, said it had “significant concerns about a number of important inconsistencies which continue to prescribe and constrain how teacher training should be delivered”.

These include the requirement for trainees to undergo periods of “intensive training and practice” and mentoring training.

The government has made all providers reapply to ensure they meet new quality standards.

Providers can apply in a second round in June, but will miss out on government feedback if they skip round one.

A spokesperson for Cambridge said they were “seeking clarification” and “full reassurances” before deciding whether to apply in the second round. They also needed to “consult fully” with partner schools on the “implications for the partnership”.

The University of Reading, rated ‘good’, is taking more time to “fully involve” school partners in the application process.

Four smaller SCITTs did not apply, instead joining partnerships with other providers.

In the east of England, Suffolk and Norfolk SCITT has teamed up with BEC Teacher Training and another SCITT in Essex to create a new provider called NESTT.

Anna Richards, executive leader at Suffolk and Norfolk, said they were “bringing together the best of everything we do and creating a really strong programme”.

The government’s ITT review, published in July last year and on which the reforms were based, predicted “significant market reconfiguration”.

Teacher training review a factor in SCITT’s closure

The University of Brighton Academies Trust, whose training is rated ‘good’, has decided to close its SCITT in Sussex this August.

A spokesperson said the decision was partly due to the market review “and various other national policy and funding changes which are challenging for small ITT providers like ours”.

They will find other ways of being involved with ITT, including building on “the strong links with the University of Brighton, Teach First and other ITT providers; through the new postgraduate teaching apprenticeship route; and through our secondary school direct programme”.

However, the University of Oxford and University College London, both vocal critics of the plans, have applied for reaccreditation.

A total of 14 universities and 20 SCITTs who responded to our survey reapplied.

A survey by the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers in December found that 79 per cent of 146 respondents said they would apply in February, and nine per cent in June.

Eight per cent said they would merge with another provider, while three per cent indicated they would quit altogether by 2023-24.

The government was criticised for giving providers just nine weeks to meet the February reaccreditation deadline, with concerns that SCITTs with small teams could be hardest hit.

Providers report ‘enormous’ pressure

Nicki Rooke, director of the Alban Federation SCITT in Hertfordshire, said it put “an enormous amount of pressure” on the team when they “should be in school supporting trainees and mentors”.

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Professor Lynne McKenna, the education dean at the University of Sunderland, said that her team had spent time reapplying when their focus should have been on the significant drop in ITT applications.

University associations have called for more clarity on the new ITT system.

A letter to the schools minister Robin Walker warned that reforms which “increase the burden on schools, and potentially put schools off engaging in ITE, would be disastrous for the sector and profession”.

Signatories include MillionPlus, the Russell Group, University Alliance and the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers.

A Department for Education spokesperson said they were “pleased the majority of providers have applied for round one”.

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  1. I’d like to know why Cambridge and the others object to the new scheme and what exactly the requirements are. The 3 line explanation of gvt wanting an intense period of practice sounds like a reasonable idea…but clearly that’s not all there is to it. I am left none the wiser by your article.

  2. Tony Patey

    Entirely agree with Alex M. We need more info.
    Shadows of “prescriptive” elements in teacher training – or wider education – have been with us since Thatcher/Baker. Many problems stemmed from not opposing Baker’s so-called “reforms” and his overt setting in stone that government leads the education agenda.
    As a new, mature, teacher I was told there was no alternative; there was. We could, as a profession, have met the ideas head-on and creatively engaged, but the majority of head teachers and staff just rolled over.
    My own experience, after 20 years in Fleet Street, as a trainee teacher at Cambridge University in 1987/8 was very heaven. Teaching practice was not a good experience, but that, at the time, was the luck of the draw; I survived.

  3. Anonymous

    I am currently nearing completion of my SCITT finishing in June. As a mature student in my late 40s, with a family I can safely say that I am appalled but not surprised by the current SCITT program designed and implemented by the Dfe. The actual scheme of work is sound enough, the problem is the time frame. Anyone who thinks you can take someone without any teaching experience and turn them into an early career teacher capable of teaching up to A level in your chosen field by the end of the course, (I.e in 10 months!) is either ignorant or just doesn’t give a hoot. My guess as it’s coming from the government, I’d say both. I was advised by my SCITT providers that continued bouts of self doubt, wanting to quit and regular episodes of breaking down into tears was, and I quote “quite normal” for a trainee teacher.
    Now I don’t know about anyone else but if someone came to me and said –
    “I’ve got this fantastic new course to get you where you want to be; you’ll be overloaded cognitively consistently, which is ironic because we’re going to teach you that doing that is bad! You’ll have no time for your family, in fact it could potentially ruin your relationship because your partner will a) hardly ever see you let alone get your help to look after the kids, you’ll be constantly reminded how bad you’re doing and that you should be progressing faster. Your self esteem will dwindle to the point where you’ll wonder what the hell you did this for, you will cry, often and have a feeling of dread upon waking up in the morning. You’ll be constantly tired and irritable, you’ll be more susceptible to depression and other mental health issues, the stress will effect your memory and focus, which is counter productive to what you’re trying to achieve. Oh ….. and you won’t be paid either but if you want to do the course it will still cost you £10 grand. Possibly £20 if you have a mortgage and a family.”

    So what do you say? Sound like fun?

    This is not an exaggeration! And many other teachers who I have spoken to who have subsequently finished their training and are now teaching in schools share the same experiences of their ITT.

    Does this sound like a successful recipe for teacher training to you? I would suggest the Dfe, if it wishes to lower the attrition rate of ECTs from the current 30% after 5 years, should make teacher training a 2 year course and fully find it so that SCITT programs are funded enough to provide, for example, mentors with a salary for what they do.

    But as usual and with every government funded program, money is always the bottom line. Pump out as many trainees as possible in the shortest possible time by spending the least amount of money. Who cares if they all burn out or end up with broken marriages or mental health issues. And that = your high rate of attrition and lack of interest in wanting to take on the job in the first place.

    No wonder one of our greatest Universities has its doubts. Anyone from the Dfe reading this? Wake up. Education is the future.